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workplace cultureGetting your people to contribute more to your organization while simultaneously establishing stronger talent retention must cost a pretty penny, right?

Not really.

You don’t necessarily need to add expensive new ingredients to the stew; you just have to know how to use your ingredients better.

A talented chef—or in this case, a corporate or organizational leader—knows how to let an ingredient speak for itself, perhaps with just a touch of seasoning or guidance. 

What is the guidance—is it competition or is it incentives such as bonuses? 

Not exactly. 

Most employees want to have more input. However, personal issues, fear of being laughed at, or the anxiety of not getting credit can stymie contributions from a leader’s staff. 

If a leader can engender a real sense of trust, the organization will benefit from the ingenuity of both the individual and the team.

A reliable way of establishing a trusting climate and culture is to make team members feel safe. 

5 ways to build a workplace culture where people feel safe


1) Share responsibility; practice “I” statements. 

With openness, encourage interaction by having team members and leaders enforce the rules and monitor the use of common space. When members break the rules, the team discusses the problems and decides on the sanctions and steps necessary to assist the member in following the rules next time. Speakers are discouraged from using the word “you.” Instead, they use “I.”

This simple yet effective practice encourages personal culpability and discourages blame. 

Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

2) Consistency. 

Teams need to consistently follow the agreed-upon rules as they set the boundaries and the tone for relationships. Following the rules makes the behavior in the space predictable, which limits uncertainty and increases feelings of safety.

Consistent application of the rules helps the team to increase trust as behavior becomes prescriptive and members know more or less what will happen in the room and how they will be treated. 

There must be consistency in direction. ~W. Edwards Deming

3) Judgment. 

The members must feel that they are not being judged.

If someone says that an idea is bad, the speaker will shut down and feel embarrassed. In the future that speaker will hesitate to give ideas since he feels his ideas may not be good enough for the team. Less confident team members may refrain from presenting their ideas if they are uncertain of their quality. However, as we all know too well, many ideas that seem strange or unorthodox at first can wind up being some of the best. 

To sit in judgment of those things which you perceive to be wrong or imperfect is to be one more person who is part of judgment, evil or imperfection. ~Wayne Dyer 

4) Good intentions. 

Not all team members are effective communicators, so it may be difficult for some people to frame and cogently express their thoughts. Assume all team members have good intentions and want a positive outcome. Even though what you are hearing may be contrary to that assumption, hold on to the thought so that you can fully understand what the member is saying before you react. 

When listening this way, the leader delays having a reaction and has time to assess the situation before responding. When the leader has emotionally detached from the situation, he can then ask questions to clarify the situation. 

Although actions may speak louder than words, it is our intentions that reveal our soul. ~Hal Elrod

5) Norming. 

By this point in the culture building process, team members seem to embrace each other, and there is a spirit of togetherness. Do not be fooled by this. This response doesn’t mean that your team has normed and that each team member is making decisions that advance the goals of the team. It means that the safe space concept has allowed them to see each other in a more neutral light so they can accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses without judgment. 

While this “understanding space” may act as an accelerator or catalyst for the team to norm, it is not magic. It does not mean that whatever problems existed within the team or workplace culture before have miraculously disappeared. The leader still needs to pay attention and check the team temperature. Regular team meetings and team building sessions should still be conducted.

Which of these five ways is your favorite?

What other investments in people do you suggest?




Today’s guest contributor is Maxine Attong, Gestalt Organizational Development practitioner, Certified Evidence-Based Coach, Certified Professional Facilitator, Certified Management Accountant and former Quality Manager. Maxine’s latest book is Lead Your Team to Win: Achieve Optimal Performance By Providing A Safe Space For Employees.


Image source:  Markus Spiske |